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The Non-adventures of Superwoman, Part 2

Written by julievelor :: [Thursday, 03 March 2005 00:00] Last updated by :: [Wednesday, 01 May 2013 13:56]

The Non-adventures of Superwoman, Part 2

 

(a.k.a. The Superior Girl Chapter 34 -- Just Playing Around)

 

by JulieVelor (a.k.a. AK)

 

 


SUBMITTED TO SGI WORKSHOP 1.1


The group of mighty warships plowed through the placid waters of the South Pacific at nearly thirty knots, each ship leaving long white wakes behind under the bright midday sun. More than a hundred miles above them the sky was dark, almost as black as the observer's hair, stars clearly visible above. Even from this altitude, the individual ships of the United States Navy carrier task force were clearly visible to the observer's extraordinary eyes as she continued her steep descent toward the ocean from the suborbital flight that had brought her halfway around the world in a matter of minutes.

 

More than half a century ago, powerful carrier task forces much like this one had swept the Pacific Ocean clear of Japanese naval forces. But now there was a new foe in an undeclared war. A terrorist organization had stolen the prototype of a new experimental particle beam weapon. In response, the Pentagon had requested the assistance of the only thing on the entire planet even more powerful than the stolen device.

 

Her.

 

The greatest superheroine the world had ever known.

 

Superwoman.

 

The last survivor of the destroyed planet Krypton normally didn't let herself get involved in the political disputes of her adopted world. But this wasn't just politics; terrorism crossed political lines and national boundaries, and innocent civilians were as likely as not to be the victims. More so.

 

As that shattering September day in New York had proven. She had seen the aftermath firsthand, when she'd helped the rescue crews dig through the rubble in the search for survivors.

 

That had been done with ordinary commercial airliners. The object of her current mission had been designed first and foremost as a weapon. And in her opinion the new weapon was simply too powerful to be in the wrong hands. She had agreed to help, and that was why the shapely young woman in the familiar blue and red outfit was streaking through the vacuum of near-Earth space at such a rapid pace.

 

Now as she reentered the atmosphere the air started to grab at her cape, unfurling it and making it billow behind her like a flag, the passage of her slim body leaving a faint trail of ionized air behind her.

 

Since no GPS unit – commercial or military – could withstand the rigors of her preferred mode of travel, she was glad for the navigational fix. Not that she'd been off by even so much as half a mile. Leveling off about thirty miles above the task force, she slowed down slightly and went into a wide sweeping turn for a better look at the ships far below her. Built around a nuclear-powered carrier and a Marine Amphibious Unit, screened by an Aegis guided-missile cruiser and smaller destroyers and frigates, this force was much more powerful than its more primitive Second World War counterparts. It probably could have taken care of the entire Japanese navy of half a century ago in a day's work, even without resorting to nuclear weapons. It was certainly more than capable of killing every living thing on the island where the terrorists were suspected of being. But pulverizing the island would not get the weapon back.

 

Perhaps, she thought, that would be best. Maybe the weapon was too powerful to be in anybody's hands, if what she had learned in the Pentagon briefing she'd left a few minutes ago was even halfway accurate. But that wasn't her decision to make.

 

Maybe it should be. Humans were already too efficient at killing each other. Did they really need more and better ways of doing it?

 

This wasn't the time to be thinking about that, however. After satisfying her curiosity by making a count of the ships – even the nuclear-powered attack submarines lurking hundreds of feet below the surface of the water were clearly visible to Superwoman's extraordinary eyes – and planes in the air – an E-2C Hawkeye, the circular radome on top making it look like a flying saucer attempting an unnatural act with a propeller-driven airplane, and a pair of F-14 Tomcats flying top cover – deployed against this single new device, she finished her sweeping circle and sped up again to continue on her way.

 

As she accelerated, Superwoman couldn't help grinning to herself. The task force she was rapidly leaving behind might have been capable of destroying the old Imperial Japanese navy in a single day, but she was more than capable of sinking every ship in the task force and downing every plane in a matter of minutes were she of a mind to do so. And she wouldn't even work up a good sweat in so doing.

 

Not that she would actually do any such thing, of course. Just the simple knowledge that she could do so if she chose to was sufficient.

 

The task force gave no sign of being aware of her fleeting presence. Within moments the task force slipped below the horizon behind her and the island came into sight ahead of her.

 

And something else was there as well, well below her, between her and her objective.

 

The fools! What idiot had sent them out here? Didn't they know what they were up against? The thing was designed to destroy orbiting satellites and incoming ICBMs. And while not specifically intended for use against targets in the atmosphere, it could still easily destroy a plane or ship long before it got close to the island. What chance did a couple of Navy jet fighter planes have against it? Could somebody on that carrier back there have been that stupid?

 

Somebody needed to warn them, tell them to get away from that island as fast as they could.

 

But it was already too late. Even as Superwoman dived steeply toward them, her body heating from friction with the thickening atmosphere as she accelerated hard, she was still more than five miles away when a nearly invisible beam of light shot up from the island and speared one of the F-14 Tomcats. The fighter immediately exploded in a brilliant fireball, quickly disintegrating in an expanding ball of plasma.

 

The speed and thoroughness of the destruction, not to mention the weapon's accuracy, surprised even Superwoman.

 

Flexing her long shapely legs she pulled up sharply from her dive as the fireball dissipated, knowing there was nothing she could do for the crew. At least it had been quick; their bodies completely vaporized before their brains could even begin to register what was happening to them.

 

There was something that Superwoman could do for the other crew, however. The second Tomcat had turned and was foolishly remaining in the area. It was a sitting duck for the gunners below.

 

Flexing her calves, she zoomed after it, going several times faster than any fighter jet ever built. The exhaust of the Tomcat's powerful twin turbofan engines briefly washed over her with its warmth and made her cape flutter as she pulled up behind and below it, braking hard and slowing down to match its pace. The titanium alloy bent slightly under her gloved fingers as she sought a grip near the tailhook mounting. The fighter then leaped forward as she added her thrust to that of the engines.

 

She was just in time. Another beam of light shot up from the ground, spearing the area of sky where the plane would have been had it continued to travel at its own sedate pace.

 

Flexing her thighs for more speed, Superwoman started to carry the jet out of the immediate vicinity, toward where she had earlier spotted the carrier nearly a hundred miles away.

 

Another spear of light shot up just behind her. She flexed harder, putting on even more speed. The pilot may not have known why his craft was moving so fast, but he started sweeping the wings back to reduce drag.

 

The fastest jet fighter in Navy service, it had not been designed for this much speed. Even swept back fully, the wings started vibrating wildly as the plane continued to accelerate. Before the pilot could react to this new development, the right wing sheared off completely.

 

The unbalanced drag threatened to throw her out of control as another spear of light stabbed the sky behind her, even closer than the previous one. Following the plane's swerve even as she fought to regain control, she turned further to the left and continued to accelerate.

 

The left wing sheared off just as she regained complete control. By this time Superwoman didn't care about damage to the plane. It would never fly again. But if she got it safely aboard the carrier, the men inside would. She accelerated even more, putting on additional speed.

 

The particle beam was a near-lightspeed weapon, which meant that unlike missiles and other projectiles she couldn't see it coming. Her only choice was to take evasive actions. Unfortunately the fragility of her human cargo severely limited the scope of her maneuvers.

 

She swerved – very gently by her standards – to the right as another spear of light stabbed the sky behind her. At least this one had been further behind than the previous ones.


Her speed – or perhaps it was the radical turns – proved to be too much for the engines. They flamed out and shut down as she continued to maneuver, heading in the general direction of where she had seen the carrier and her escorts.

 

Finally she was out of the danger area, the spears of light no longer following her. By the time she spotted the Navy task force on the horizon, the tail surfaces had also been torn off, leaving her with no more than the fuselage containing its fragile human cargo. Still, the fuselage itself was more or less in one piece, a testament to the designers and engineers at Grumman. She started to decelerate even before she passed over the lighter units screening the carrier.

 

A study during the Vietnam conflict had shown that pilots were more heavily stressed during carrier landings than they were when under enemy fire. Superwoman had no such problems. She had been doing it all her life; flight was as natural to her as breathing. Slowing down even further as she approached the carrier, she positioned herself directly over the flight deck – which had been cleared as soon as her approach had been detected – and landed vertically. Even before she set what remained of the fighter on the deck, emergency crews were rushing forward with hoses and fire extinguishers. A medical team followed on their heels.

 

The pilot hadn't set the landing gear down, so she had to set the fuselage down on its stomach. Then moving forward to the cockpit, she ripped off the canopy to give the emergency crews access to the two-man crew inside.

 

Both men were slumped down in their seats, blood visible around their masks. Even in her desperate evasive maneuvers to get the plane clear of the danger area, she'd remembered to stay well below her maximum acceleration. Even then, it had been too much for the fragile men inside, despite their pressure suits. They had passed out from the G-forces, but at least they were still alive. Tearing the straps apart, she lifted out first one man and then the other, handing them down the medical teams gathered below. Their professionalism was evident; they only spent a couple of seconds checking out the cause of the aircraft's unconventional return before turning their attention to the wounded men.

 

Superwoman had little time to dally. Still, she felt that she needed to report what had happened, at least explain her actions to someone in authority. And she felt some concern about the two aviators; it had been her maneuvers, after all, that had injured them. Even as the sailors who weren't directly involved with the stricken plane started to gather around in hopes of getting a closer look at their unexpected and beautiful visitor, she looked over their heads and saw a familiar face climbing up to the flight deck. Leaping over their heads, giving the men who were able to react quick enough a fleeting glimpse up her tiny skirt, she landed on the catwalk beside the task force commander.

 

Her working clothes were not a military uniform. Still, some formalities had to be observed. She straightened to attention. "Permission to come aboard, Sir."

 

"Permission granted. Granted, of course. Welcome aboard." Smiling broadly as he performed what was normally the responsibility of the Officer of the Deck, he offered a hand, and when she took it, clasped it gently, no harder than a human male could be expected to do so. "And thank you for bringing our boys home," he added, nodding toward the remains of the aircraft on the flight deck.

 

"I'm afraid I was a little too rough on them."

 

His smile faded. "I saw the other F-14 disappear off our radar. I'm glad you got one of them back."

 

The Admiral had met Superwoman before, when she had assisted a submarine that had suffered a serious accident and had been unable to return to the surface. People around the world had thrilled to Lois Lane's exciting accounts in the Daily Planet of how Superwoman had rescued the crippled boat from the depths and brought it back to its base at Pearl Harbor without a single loss of life or even a serious injury among the crew.

 

Now, having welcomed her aboard his flagship, he invited her down to the flag briefing room near the Combat Information Center. Sailors going about their duties cleared the path before the Admiral and then stared at the vision of feminine perfection following in his wake. The Marine corporal on sentry duty snapped sharply to attention at the approach of the Admiral, then did a double-take as he saw the Admiral's lovely guest. His knees almost buckled when she favored him with a dazzling smile, revealing her perfect white teeth.

 

The corporal barely recovered his composure and refroze at a neutral-faced parade rest just in time to unfreeze and open the door, the Admiral giving him an extra second by stepping aside and letting Superwoman precede him inside. Already present were his chief of staff, the captain of the carrier, and the commander of the air group. They all stood as Superwoman and the Admiral entered, the marine giving her another second's worth of gawk to admire her backside before closing the door behind them.

 

The Admiral's flag lieutenant wasn't introduced, his low rank apparently beneath the notice of such an illustrious visitor. However, she did notice him as he walked toward a large stainless steel urn set on a table against a bulkhead.

 

Superwoman didn't need her X-ray vision to tell her what the urn contained; her sensitive nostrils were more than enough. She politely declined the offer of coffee as the lieutenant refilled his superiors' mugs; Perry White's newsroom coffee was one thing, but there had been times when Superwoman wondered whether senior naval officers were issued stomachs even more invulnerable than hers. They had to be to drink the traditional Navy coffee with salt. Not to mention the handleless mugs – and the lining inside that urn. That stuff had to be tougher than any armor ever used on a warship.

 

Having declined the coffee, she didn't bother to sit down, either. Beginning before the flag lieutenant could even resume his seat, she quickly reported what had happened to the two aircraft, explaining why she had damaged the plane in order to save its crew from the same fate that had met the other one. She apologized for the rough handling and hoped that the men would be all right.

 

The officers had all seen the disappearance of the blip on the radar screen and had been as stunned as she at the speed of the destruction; they gave her no argument. Then, after getting the Admiral's assurance that he would keep the task force well clear of the island and send in no more aircraft until she gave the all-clear – and a messenger passed word that the two aviators were fine and would eventually recover completely – she stepped back out onto the catwalk.

 

As Superwoman, accompanied by the Admiral and his officers, was climbing up toward the flight deck, a sudden roar disturbed the air and rose in an ear-shattering crescendo as two General Electric F110-GE-400 turbofans ran up to full military power. From somewhere beneath the deck, she heard what sounded like two giant valves suddenly opening. Then came the impact of a solid wall of steam expanding itself against the catapult pistons. A fully-loaded F-14 Tomcat streaked past and lifted into the air, the air shimmering from its afterburner. The plane wasn't going to the terrorist-held island, rather merely providing top cover for the task force, relieving the aircraft currently engaged in that mission. Nobody expected an aerial attack – and the particle beam weapon couldn't hit them over the horizon – but it wouldn't hurt to be careful. Further aft, a flight deck tractor towed another Tomcat to the hookup area near the bow catapult. Sailors securing the aircraft with chocks and chains stopped and gaped at their visitor before spotting the Admiral and returning to their duties. The tractor was unhooked and trundled away to collect another plane. The men continued to steal glances at the lovely female.

 

Unlike jet fighters, Superwoman didn't need a catapult to launch her into the air. She really hadn't even needed to get up to the flight deck, the catwalk would have been a more than adequate launch platform. Gathering her legs under her, she leaped up into the air. Mindful of the fragile structure under her, it wasn't all that powerful of a leap. Still, what appeared to the watching officers and sailors to be no more than a slight bunching of the beautiful calves under her tiny skirt was enough to propel her more than five hundred feet above the tallest radar mast atop the superstructure before she brought her flight powers into play, flexing her calves again and streaking away toward the screening ships. Several seconds later, the men heard the sonic boom as she went supersonic and the tiny speck of her body was lost to the naked eye.

 

Behind her, as she was resolving to return to the carrier and visit with the two aviators once she had accomplished her mission and apologize in person for handling them so roughly, the task force made a slight turn, bending its course to take them further away from the island.

 

Unburdened this time by the fragile cargo of a jet fighter and its crew, Superwoman made the return trip to the island in a fraction of the time, her curvaceous body much too small to register on the task force's radar, let alone the terrorists'. Just because the terrorist couldn't see her didn't mean that she couldn't see them, however. Circling more than twenty miles above the island, she scanned the objective.

 

At first glance the isolated island appeared to be uninhabited, almost completely covered by dense tropical foliage. It took her nearly three seconds to find it. The installation had been well camouflaged, much of it buried underground. Even the radar dishes were concealed. No wonder the military had been uncertain of its exact location. There was nothing unusual to be seen in the visible or infrared spectra, and she didn't think radar imaging would be any more successful.

 

Just because things were invisible to reconnaissance satellites or to any other man-made devices did not mean that they were not visible to Superwoman. Her extraordinary eyes could see in spectra no artificial devices could use. Even from this altitude, now that she knew what she was looking for, she could see the entire installation spread out below her as if she was looking at a blueprint. Looking deeper, she could see the individual figures, one shift manning the systems while the others were standing down in their barracks.

 

She estimated that there were more men than the briefing at the Pentagon had told her to expect. Not that it mattered how many of them there really were; she knew that she could easily handle them regardless of their number. Not that she took the time to actually count them. Her first objective had to be that radar system. Then she could disable the particle beam weapon, destroy the secondary defenses, and then the task force could move in and land the SEALs and the Marines to mop up.

 

She turned, jackknifed, and dived for the island, picking up speed as she flexed her thighs for maximum acceleration.

 

The first inkling the terrorist had of Superwoman's return came when their concealed radar station exploded in a shower of steel and concrete. In a matter of seconds, the entire radar system was out of operation. Now, the only way they could detect the task force's approach would be for somebody to actually get a set of Mark 1 eyeballs on it.

 

Even without the benefit of advance warning, the terrorists were reacting quickly. Alarms were sounding and armed men were beginning to pour out of the two tunnels leading up from the underground barracks even before all of the radar station debris had finished falling from the sky.

 

Superwoman landed in the middle of the installation to find herself facing a line of men, all with AK-47s aimed at her. If they were surprised to see a beautiful young woman in their midst, they didn't that slow them down. Almost as one, they opened fire.

 

She'd expected a little more brains from an outfit capable of pulling off this kind of operation. To steal the particle beam weapon, and then hope to stop her with mere rifles … it was almost laughable.

 

Still, it had been a while since she'd faced this much concentrated small-arms fire. She was much more accustomed to facing one or two gunmen trying to rob a gas station or a liquor store. Calmly standing still with her hands on her hips, she took the time to savor the delightful little tingling sensations as the hail of bullets impacted all over the front of her body, feeling like a multitude of light loving caresses.

 

The pleasure was much too short-lived as the gunners quickly ran out of ammunition. There wasn't so much as a single lead smear on either her sheer outfit or her flawless skin. Still, it was her turn to thank them for their efforts, feeble as they'd been. This she could do without even lifting a finger. Before the men could scatter, she smiled at them and then pursed her lips and blew them a little kiss, turning her head to include them all from one end of the line to the other and then back again.

 

Her kiss scattered the men. One by one the men left their feet as the very air plucked them up and tossed them about like leaves in a hurricane. Screams were torn from their mouths and lost in the gale-force wind. Most of the men lost their weapons as they were blown past the first of the trees, before coming down as much as a quarter of a mile away in the jungle where hopefully the dense foliage would cushion their falls a little.

 

Some of the men were still airborne when an armor-piercing anti-tank shell came at her from behind. Designed to penetrate the thickest armor of a main battle tank, the depleted uranium shell merely pushed her cape against her back before the solid projectile shattered against her shoulder blade.

 

Shaking the shell fragments out of her cape, she turned around and froze momentarily in shock. She was looking straight at an M1-A2 Abrams main battle tank, its long main gun aimed directly at her. This was something that hadn't been included in the Pentagon briefing. And even worse, she had somehow missed it during her earlier high-altitude reconnaissance. Earlier generations of the Abrams tanks had swept the Iraqi desert clear of anything that had tried to stand before them – twice. In her guise as a mild mannered reporter for the Daily Planet, she had covered some of the fighting – if those routs could even be called fighting. Then, unlike this time, Superwoman had held herself out of the action.

 

How had these terrorists gotten their hands on one of the latest?

 

Though she supposed that an organization capable of stealing the latest experimental weapon out of a top-secret Air Force facility wouldn't have too much trouble stealing something as mundane as a tank.

 

However they had gotten it, it was most definitely here on the island. And, since it was here, it was something Superwoman had to deal with. And this was something that would require more than a simple blown kiss. She started to walk toward it.

 

She had to give the crew credit – they knew how to use what they had acquired. Reloading quickly, another shell came out of the smoke and flame at the end of the long barrel, and the aim was just as good as the first one had been. Putting her hands on her hips, she only had to rise up slightly on her toes to take the shell right in the middle of the big red S on her chest.

 

Unlike the previous armor-piercing shell, this one contained a shaped charge, designed to blast its way through a tank's armor with a blast of superheated gas. It was of no more effect against this particular target than the first had been. The shell pushed against her large full breasts as if it was trying to burrow into her deep cleavage. She let out an involuntary gasp as the shaped charge exploded and directed its full fury at such an intimate place, building on the pleasure begun by the earlier small-arms fire without damaging her sheer outfit, let alone her skin.

 

As pleasurable as it was, she really didn't have the time for enjoyment. Even as she wrapped her arms around her in an effort to hold in the feeling, her long legs took a couple of quick steps to bring her under the end of the long smoothbore barrel where it could no longer fire at her. Unwrapping her arms, she reached up with one arm and crushed the barrel in her hand as if it was nothing more than a sheet of rolled-up paper.

 

With his main weapon out of action, the tank commander had to resort to another tactic. Giving the order to his driver, the jet turbines whined, the treads turned, and the tank surged forward in an attempt to run her over, the commander hoping to use the sheer bulk of his vehicle as a weapon.

 

Her hand was still holding the crushed barrel of the main gun. With the powerful engine trying to drive the vehicle forward, something had to give. In this case, it was the main gun, already weakened where she had crushed it flat. It snapped off in her hand as the tank surged forward.

 

And came to a halt almost immediately with its front ramming plate resting against the beautiful woman's flat stomach. The turbines continued to whine and the treads continued to turn, but the big vehicle could make no further progress. Superwoman wasn't even pushed back a single inch as she held the massive machine stationary and its spinning treads began to score deep grooves in the ground, sending sand flying to the rear.

 

The deep rumbling vibrations transmitted through the ramming plate felt good. So good, good enough to make her reconsider. Despite the urgency of her mission, she couldn't resist having a little more fun first. Tossing the broken barrel away over her shoulder with a flick of her wrist – it went spinning away to splash down into the ocean nearly a mile behind her – and lowering her hand, she playfully pushed the huge vehicle away from her stomach with just her forefinger, its treads still tossing a whirlwind of sand and stones into the air as the vehicle slid back more than a foot as she fully extended her arm.

 

She turned her hand to get her fingers underneath it. The tough composite armor deformed as she ran her gloved fingers lightly over it as if she was doing nothing more than tickling a cat under its chin.

 

Then a mere flick of her slim feminine forefinger hurled the massive vehicle backward about fifteen feet, only to have its treads finally catch and propel it right back at her. Before the ramming plate could touch her stomach she reached out and flicked it back with her second finger, with the same result. The third time, she used her ring finger. And the fourth time, her little finger, each time with the same result.

 

The tank continued trying to run her over. Having run out of fingers and beginning to get a little bored with this lopsided contest, she gave it another, more powerful flick with her dainty little finger. This time the tank bucked like a rodeo bronco and slid back more than thirty feet before the treads once again caught and held.

 

The tank charged her again. This time, she reached out with her right hand and caught hold of it, stopping it at arm's length. The engine continued to whine, the treads continued to turn, sand continued to fly, yet the tank was held completely immobile. The powerful jet turbine engine could generate 1500 horsepower and was capable of propelling the seventy-ton behemoth at better than forty-five miles per hour, yet Superwoman's slender arm was barely flexed as she held the tank completely immobile.

 

She could feel the rumbling of the engine through her arm. Almost of its own volition, her left hand left her hip and moved up to her chest. Her fingers began to lightly stroke the underside of her breast, applying not much more than twice the force of the earlier hail of rifle bullets.

 

The sound of gears shifting told her that the driver was shifting into reverse, apparently having given up the unequal contest. Or perhaps just to back up so he could make another run at her. In either case, she wasn't going to let him get away that easily. In response she tightened the grip of both hands. The tough composite armor, intended to withstand the most powerful anti-tank weapon, deformed under the dainty fingers of her right hand like it was nothing more than warm taffy, nearly coming off in her hand. Her firm mound proved to be made of sterner stuff, barely dimpling as her left hand tightened even more than the right, softly cupping her firm mound.

 

The engine was no more capable of besting her in reverse than it had been in forward. The only difference this time was that the treads kicked up a cloud of sand to the front on either side of Superwoman's slender form instead of to the back. Once again her arm was barely flexed as she held the machine in place, its treads continuing to kick up sand in a futile effort to move the vehicle away from her, her other hand continuing to cup herself gently.

 

Then the vehicle moved slightly. Even though the engines were in reverse, the tank moved forward, toward her. And up. Raising her arm, she lifted the front end up as high as she could reach, the rest of the tank getting dragged toward her despite the treads still churning in the opposite direction.

 

The big vehicle was far too big for her to upend this way. Not without taking her feet off the ground, or releasing her grip and pushing it over. Or, using her other hand, walking both hands down the belly of the mechanical beast. And she didn't want to use both hands; she was facing, after all, only a single tank, albeit the most powerful such machine in the world. So, relaxing her arm, she allowed the treads to pull the machine back away from her until it was fully on the ground again, where her slender arm once again held it firmly in place against the straining engine and the clanking treads.

 

And then the machine began to move again, but once more its motion had no relation to the efforts of its engine. The suspension groaned as the weight once again left them, this time as the huge tank began to leave the ground completely as she raised her arm to lever the entire vehicle up, her shoulder serving as the fulcrum.

 

The machine was too heavy for her to hold with just her arm. Flexing her shapely legs slightly, she generated just enough flight power to hold herself upright as she continued to raise her arm and the massive machine at its end.

 

The treads continued to turn, an exercise in futility as the entire vehicle was now completely off the ground.

 

Superwoman's slender arm was barely flexed as she held the machine's heavy weight at arm's length, her flight powers keeping her upright and balanced while her feet exerted no more pressure than that of her normal weight on the ground.

 

It was a testimonial to the skill of its designers that the machine held together as she levered the machine up even higher. Twenty degrees, thirty, the rear of the vehicle continued to rise.

 

At about forty-five degrees, the vehicle stopped its unnatural rise. But then the seventy-ton load began to turn as she turned her wrist. The vehicle turned onto its side, the treads still clanking in their ongoing exercise in futility. Her wrist continued turning until the vehicle was on its back, its rear still above its front at a forty-five degree angle.

 

She then started to bend her wrist, lowering the vehicle until, with a huge crash, the massive war machine came back down to the ground on its back. The treads continued turning, clanking futilely, like a tortoise on its back.

 

Superwoman ignored the crew as they climbed out of their disabled vehicle and scurried off into the undergrowth, suitably impressed with her strength and the total inadequacy of their weapon. They were harmless now without the tank – they'd been harmless with it, actually. She instead turned and looked around. Inwardly disappointed to find no more tanks in the vicinity, she was also pleased with how well the mission was going thus far. It also had been kind of fun, toying with the one tank that had dared to challenge her might. Casually dusting off her hands, not that they were dirty, she started walking toward the bunker containing her primary objective.

 

The bunker turned out to be a decoy, so cleverly constructed that it had fooled even Superwoman. The real weapon fired at her from the bunker behind her, hitting her in the back. Caught completely by surprise, the powerful weapon – far more powerful than anything she'd ever faced before – lifted her off her feet and threw her forward, propelling her headfirst directly into the front of the decoy bunker. Concrete shattered as her body went through the thick wall, steel rebar bending and then breaking as something much harder than steel came through. Concrete dust showered down upon her as she came to rest on her stomach buried in a pile of rubble.

 

She rolled over onto her back, dislodging several tons of rubble in the process. Getting her hands under her and pushing herself up to a sitting position, she turned her head and looked at the hole through which she had just come.

 

The hole was much bigger than what her slender feminine body had carved out, the residual energy of the particle beam weapon having enlarged it substantially. It truly was a powerful weapon. Much too powerful to be left in the hands of this – or any other – terrorist organization. Perhaps even too powerful to be allowed in the hands of any legitimate government, even that of her adopted country.

 

Before Superwoman could get back up to her feet, another weight landed on her stomach. It might have been concrete. Rocks. The entire bunker, the entire world, might have caved in on her. She was conscious of having just flailed a hand above her, but it made no difference to The Weight, which walked calmly forward onto her chest and patted her cheek with a furry paw.

 

The Weight wanted breakfast. It wanted breakfast now.

 

Its human was sleeping past breakfast? Clearly something was wrong that wanted intervention.

 

Pat. Pat-pat.

 

Still no response.

 

Raise the ante. The Weight put a tentative foot on the pillow and licked her chin.

 

She waved an arm not quite aimed at dumping the cat onto the floor. It was unlucky to do that. Cat owners for the last half-century had been wary of starting the day by dumping the cat off. But it had started out as such a good dream. Superwoman had been about to take care of the terrorists who had stolen the particle beam weapon.

 

Undaunted, tail raised high, the cat tramped back across the covers.

 

"All right," she finally said. "All right." She swung her legs over and climbed out of bed. "It's my day off, you know," she told the cat. It merely licked a paw and looked at her.

 

Why had she ever gotten a cat in the first place? Why hadn't she gotten something that could read her calendar? Why hadn't she gotten something that could make its own breakfast?

 

Why hadn't she gotten something that could make her breakfast?

 

The cat merely jumped off the bed and headed for the door. Grabbing her robe and putting it on, she followed to feed the cat and begin her day off.

 

The cat rubbed against her bare legs as she opened the package of cat food and dumped it into its bowl and set the bowl down on the floor. Then, having accomplished its mission, it buried its nose in the bowl.

 

She hoped the day would be better once she'd had her first cup of coffee. Too bad it still wouldn't be as good as the dream had been. Even though it was already fading rapidly from memory, it had been damn good dream.

 

Now, if only real life could be that good for Lois Lane …

 


 

I was up with the sun again despite my most recent nocturnal activities. Remembering how warm it had been yesterday, and how casual everything was around here, I dressed a little more simply today. No bra, just a white tank-top over a pair of shorts. Lacking a good pair of cowboy boots, my feet still had to make do with sneakers.

 

No sooner had I finished lacing up my sneakers when Sandy knocked on my door. She didn't look any the worse for wear despite her own nocturnal activities. She was again dressed in shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots. Together we went to the chowhall for breakfast.

 

Breakfast was just as good as it had been yesterday. Maybe even better.

 

I hadn't gotten too much sleep last night. My constitution didn't suffer as much as an ordinary person's would have, but a big breakfast with lots of good strong coffee certainly helped. Of course, the pancakes, bacon, and eggs didn't hurt, either.

 

Sandy was trying too hard not to meet my eyes as we exchanged small talk, both of us carefully avoiding anything to do with last night's chat.

 

Dusty had apparently already eaten, for she didn't bother to get any food. She merely grabbed a cup of coffee and came to join us as Sandy and I were just about finished. Somewhat to my surprise, she was wearing a skirt today, a long denim one, instead of jeans.

 

"Where're we going today?" I asked her. As if I didn't know.

 

"Over to that old silver town you seem so fascinated with," Dusty answered.

 

Sandy shot me a sharp glance. I returned a blank one, remembering that I hadn't told her about my nocturnal activities before meeting her.

 

Dusty must have misinterpreted my silent exchange with her cousin. "Oh, don't worry. We've been there plenty of times, and they've never bothered us before. And besides, we'll have plenty of backup."

 

Had Sullivan told her who I really was? Or were we going in force?

 

Dusty didn't tell us. She did tell us that we would have backup in case we ran into any opposition. "Ready to go?" she finished, draining her mug and rising to her feet.

 

Sandy looked over at me, then rose from the table. "Sure. "I'll go get our transportation." She grabbed her tray and headed for the kitchen.

 

I finished off my last piece of bacon, drained my coffee, and gathered up my tray, taking Dusty's empty coffee cup as well. "Be back in a sec," I told Dusty before following her cousin to get rid of the dirties.

 

Sandy slipped out through the kitchen door. I returned to the chowhall and rejoined Dusty, who led the way out through the front door.

 

Rusty met us just outside the door. I held my hand out for him, but he made a beeline for Dusty. I saw the reason as soon as she produced a slice of bacon from a pocket and offered it to him.

 

The golden retriever downed it in two bites and then came over to me for seconds. All I could do was squat down and pet him while he sniffed me as if to verify my identity again. Or perhaps to root out some more bacon, which he seemed to think I had hidden in the front of my jeans.

 

"Sorry, boy," I said, grabbing his head and pulling it away from my crotch, then scratching him behind the ears. "I didn't know you were going to be here or I would have brought you something."

 

He slobbered all over my hand as if he was going to settle for taking a chunk out of me.

 

"He's always underfoot," Dusty observed. "Everywhere except where he's supposed to be."

 

"We taking him with us today?" I asked. All in all, yesterday's had been an enjoyable jaunt, even if there had been an unpleasant incident. Actually, not all that unpleasant. I had no objections to doing the same thing today, with or without a slobbering golden retriever. Only, there was something missing. "Where's the Jeep?" I asked Dusty, continuing to pet Rusty.

 

"Sandy's getting our ride now," she replied, a smile turning up the corners of her mouth.

 

I should have known better than to ask. Sandy's return was accompanied not by the purr of the Jeep engine but rather by the clip-clop of hooves. An even dozen of them, in fact, following Sandy's pair of boots. And with them came four softer paws as another golden retriever followed.

 

Rusty gave a quick bark and joined the other dog, running back and forth across the line of horses, wagging frantically and jumping, as if saying, "Going for a ride, great idea!"

 

I wasn't sure I agreed with the dog. It'd been at least ten years since I'd last been on a horse. That was long before I'd acquired my powers, obviously. Since then I'd been too busy with volleyball and school and work. And since I'd acquired my powers, there'd been no need for me to get up on a horse.

 

Certainly not for transportation purposes, at least. Still, when in Rome …

 

"You do know how to ride, don't you?" Sandy asked, singling out one horse and holding the reins out to me, a bit of a smirk on her face. After what she'd learned last night, she knew that I wouldn't fall off. Or at least, if I did, I wouldn't hurt myself.

 

"It's been a while," I said, taking the reins in my hand as the new dog stopped running around to come up and sniff my other hand. Rusty was right at its side. I hadn't been this surrounded by animals since the last frat party that I'd attended in college.

 

"Buttercup's the most placid horse we got on the ranch," Dusty told me. "We don't want our honored guest getting hurt falling off a horse."

 

"I assume this one's Buttercup," I said, raising the hand with the reins and looking at the brown-and-white dappled animal. I reached out my other hand and gingerly stroked its velvet nose. It laid its ears back and looked at me with huge brown eyes.

 

"Yeah. This other one's Goldie."

 

Hearing her name, Goldie went over to Dusty and sniffed her hands, allowing Rusty to move in closer to me. He sniffed my hand when I lowered it from Buttercup's nose, and then danced around and under the horses.

 

Goldie apparently smelled the bacon on Dusty's hand and wanted a slice. Dusty squatted down and took the dog's head between both her hands. "Sorry, I didn't bring one for you. You shouldn't even be here. Why aren't you with the little ones, hunh?"

 

Goldie looked crestfallen, ears drooping, disappointed that she couldn't come with us. Even Rusty shared her disappointment, stopping his running around to sit next to Goldie.

 

"Goldie had puppies last week," Sandy explained to me as she held another set of reins out to her cousin.

 

I drew the obvious conclusion. "And Rusty's the proud father." I looked down at Rusty as he, recognizing his name, looked up at me and gave me a toothy grin.

 

"Not so proud," Sandy said with a snort. "That's why he wanted to come with us yesterday. Didn't want to stay home and help take care of his babies."

 

"Just like a typical male," Dusty said. I wasn't sure whether the tone of her voice was all sarcasm. Straightening up and taking the reins from her cousin, she then looked back down at the new mother. "Go home to your little ones. They need you."

 

Goldie gave her a pleading look, but then obediently rose and padded off. Rusty started to follow, then turned and came back to us. As Dusty had just said, he was acting like a typical male, nipping at Sandy and getting underfoot as she took off her wraparound skirt. Underneath, she was wearing the same cut-offs that she'd worn yesterday.

 

Rusty made a grab for the skirt. "Go home," she told him, echoing her cousin's command and waving the skirt like a matador waving a cape at a charging bull.

 

The new father nipped at the skirt once and then stopped, hesitating for a moment before obeying, trotting off to rejoin his mate. Dusty watched as she folded her skirt and packed it in her saddlebag

 

"Need a leg up?" Sandy asked me, with a bit of a smirk.

 

"I think I can manage." Without using too much of my flight powers, I vaulted up and astride Buttercup's back. True to what Dusty had said, Buttercup didn't shy away. She just stood placidly as I settled my rear end in the saddle.

 

"Show-off!" Sandy said. Even Dusty looked thoughtful as she took the reins from her cousin and vaulted up onto her mount. Sandy quickly followed suit.

 

Without my flight powers, I never would have been able to duplicate their feats, my longer legs and all the jumping they've ever done in volleyball notwithstanding.

 

Dusty's horse began moving without her having to set heels to it. Sandy's followed, and Buttercup obediently followed the other two. Rusty came out of nowhere, running from one horse to another, deftly avoiding the bigger animals' hooves, before a sharp command from Dusty sent him back to help his mate take care of their puppies.

 

Just like yesterday, I didn't have to do any driving. Sandy may as well have been holding Buttercup's reins instead of me for all the control I seemed to have over my ride. But riding a horse turned out to be a lot like riding a bicycle; once you learn, you never really forget.

 

I was staying on, at least. And it wasn't exactly like riding a bicycle; it called for a different set of muscles – muscles I'd forgotten I'd ever had – even if all you were doing was staying atop the horse and letting the animal do all the work. Not that I was getting sore, but even a superior girl can get a little uncomfortable.

 

And I obviously was the only one. The cousins were riding like they were born in the saddle. Which, for all I knew, they were.

 

It actually wasn't all that bad. We started off at a walk and rode most of the way at that pace, though Dusty occasionally changed the pace in order to keep the horses from getting too tired. I didn't even have to tell Buttercup anything; she placidly followed the other two and matched her gait to theirs.

 

Soon enough we could see the lake. But we didn't go down to the beach where we'd had our little picnic yesterday. Instead, Dusty led us on a dirt track that skirted the little dunes as it made its way around the water.

 

With every passing minute I got more and more accustomed to Buttercup's gentle gait, though I didn't think I could ever fall asleep in the saddle, as I suspected that the cousins could.

 

Not that anybody was falling asleep on this particular trip. We kept our eyes open, watching for anything out of the ordinary. I could understand why Dusty had chosen this mode of travel; the horses made less noise than the Jeep, and they could warn us if there was anything more dangerous than a roadrunner out there.

 

Which there apparently wasn't.

 

The little mining town was just as I had left it last night. The busted door was still lying in the middle of the road, where a recent set of tire tracks ended. There was no sign of the vehicle that had created the tracks.

 

We dismounted and tied the horses to the rail in front of the saloon, just like in the movies. I then led the way into the stable. The pickup truck was still parked inside. Both Dusty and Sandy looked, but there was nothing of interest to be found inside. The pickup didn't even have license plates attached.

 

Coming back out, we crossed the street and entered the saloon.

 

"Too bad there's nothing to drink in here," Sandy said, looking around the empty interior.

 

We checked out the rest of the little town, but there wasn't anything to be seen. No hidden caches of weapons or drugs, no offices or laboratories hidden inside the dilapidated buildings. Even my X-ray vision didn't spot anything out of the ordinary. Apparently those two men had only used this ghost town as a meeting place.

 

"C'mon, there's someplace else I want to check out while we're here," Dusty said, leading us back to our horses. We mounted up and she led us a short distance into the hills, away from the lake.

 

The place was an old mine perhaps two miles from the town. And just like the town, there was nothing of interest here.

 

We headed back to the town and beyond, down to the shore of the lake. We watered and fed the horses before breaking out our own picnic lunch. No swimming today, though, not in enemy territory. We ate carefully, keeping our ears open and our eyes on the horses, but again there was nothing more threatening than a roadrunner.

 

After eating, we cleaned up, packed up, and mounted up. Dusty led us on a different route back for home.

 

We were about half a mile inside our territory when it happened. On point, Dusty's horse gave the first warning, nickering softly and coming to a halt.

 

There was no verbal communication between the cousins. Sandy pointed to the right, and then prodded her horse at a slow quiet walk to the left. I didn't trust my new equestrian skills enough to try the same, so I dropped Buttercup's reins to the ground, trusting her to stay put, and leaped out of the saddle.

 

I can move quite silently when I want to. Of course, not needing to have my feet – or any other part of me, for that matter – touch the ground certainly helps.

 

My sensitive ears could hear Sandy's horse circling around to the left. I could hear Dusty's heartbeat and that of her horse holding the center.

 

I could also hear another heartbeat, this one coming from ahead. I moved in closer, circling a little to the right, flattening myself almost to the ground.

 

Unlike yesterday's man, this one was making a little more of an effort to stay hidden. Not much, though. He was wearing camouflage fatigues, though the bright orange hunting cap on his head somewhat ruined the effect and gave him away. He carried a twin-barrel hunting shotgun in his hands. A pair of binoculars hung around his neck and a small green field pack rested on his back.

 

A mere shotgun wasn't going to hurt me. After all, it wasn't as if I was facing an experimental particle beam weapon or anything like that.

 

I rotated vertical and let my feet touch the ground. "Looking for us?" I asked.

 

He whirled around in surprise.

 

"You're trespassing," I said, taking a step toward him.

 

He raised his shotgun to a firing position.

 

"Put that thing down," I said, taking another step toward him.

 

He did nothing of the sort. The shotgun remained pointed directly at my chest.

 

"Don't point that thing at me!" I took a long step forward and reached for the weapon.

 

He had hair-trigger reflexes. Or else he simply panicked. In either case, he pulled back on the trigger before I could grab the gun and deflect his aim.

 

My reflexes weren't all that shabby, either. There was no way that those little pellets were going to hurt me – after all, I'd faced even the most powerful experimental weapons the Air Force had – but at this close range the ricochets off my soft feminine body could still hurt him. Perhaps seriously. Maybe even kill him. And I certainly didn't want that, at least not until we'd gotten him back to the ranch and made him talk.

 

There was only one way to keep him from getting hurt. I chose to go with the flow, letting the blast knock me back and down on my butt. The pellets scattered to the sides and down rather than right back at my assailant.

 

My butt bounced once on the parched ground before I came to a stop. "I told you that you didn't want to do that," I said, sitting on the ground and looking up at him from behind my golden hair.

 

His hands were fumbling to pump another round into the chamber even as he started at me, amazed that I was still alive, let alone talking to him.

 

"Oh no, you don't!" Flexing my calves, I rose up toward him. Easily snatching the shotgun from his hands, I landed on my feet.

 

He was too stunned to do anything more than take a step back. Or perhaps he was paralyzed by my golden beauty. Yeah, right. With all those little black smear marks all over me and my clothes in tatters.

 

I pointed the latter out to him, holding the shotgun at my side and waving my other hand over my chest. "Look what you did to my clothes! They're completely ruined!"

 

His gaze were naturally drawn to my chest. His eyes got wider, if that was possible.

 

And since my clothes were indeed ruined, there was no point in continuing to wear them. Raising the shotgun to my chest and hooking the muzzle into my cleavage under what was left of the top, I tore away the remaining cloth.

 

I don't know which surprised him more, my exposing myself or the total lack of blood.

 

Continuing with the show, I tucked the barrel between my breasts again. Flexing my chest muscles to hold my breasts in place, I pulled up on the hand holding the shotgun.

 

There was a squeal of tortured metal as the barrel began to bend, my softest flesh proving to be harder than the gunmetal. I soon had the barrel bent at a ninety-degree angle.

 

Relaxing my chest muscles, I pulled out the bent and slightly flattened barrel. I then held it out to him. "Here. You want it back?"

 

Shaking his head, he stepped back.

 

"Oh, come on. It's yours." Quickly stepping forward and raising the shotgun, I looped the barrel around his neck and pulled him back toward me.

 

As he tried to pull away from me, I bent the barrel further around his neck and twisted the ends together. Satisfied with my handiwork, I stepped back, dropping my hands to my hips as I looked at him.

 

His hands came up to the steel collar around his neck and tried to unfasten it. Naturally, his puny male strength wasn't up to the task.

 

"It must be true," I mused out loud, reaching out and taking hold of the barrel and giving it a little twist, knocking him down on his side. "Men use guns to compensate for something else, isn't that right?"

 

He just lay there and looked up at me without saying anything.

 

"Isn't it?" I asked, taking a step toward him.

 

He tried to roll away from me, but the shotgun wrapped around his neck made it awkward. Squatting down on my heels, I grabbed the protruding end of the barrel and pulled him back to me. Rolling him over onto his stomach, I tore the pack off his back. "What do we have in here?" I opened it up and dumped out its contents.

 

It was about what I'd expected. His lunch, a box of shells for his shotgun, a change of socks. And a couple of cans of beer.

 

"Oh, good. You brought munchies," I said, releasing him and sitting cross-legged next to him. Opening the box of shotgun shells, I popped one into my mouth and chewed like it was just a cracker. It tasted terrible, but I forced myself to continue chewing until the shell went off. My mouth filled with expanding gas while lead pellets bounced around inside.

 

Turning my head away from the man, I opened my mouth and belched. I then spat out the pellets, probably with more force than the shell could have done.

 

"Oh, excuse me," I said, turning back to him. "You want one?" I held another shell out to him.

 

He'd been staring at me as I "ate" the first shell. Now he turned his face away.

 

"Don't you want one?" I asked, reaching out with my other hand and grabbing the shotgun wrapped around his neck. I turned his face toward me and held the shell over his mouth.

 

Clamping his jaws shut, he grabbed the arm holding his chin and tried to free himself. Ignoring his pathetic struggles, I forced his mouth open and dropped the shell in. Then, before he could spit it out, I forced his mouth closed.

 

Of course, he didn't have the strength in his jaws to set off the shell. And I doubted whether his teeth could chew through the plastic casing. Still, I couldn't resist working his jaw a couple of times, forcing him to chew.

 

"Jessie! What're you doing?"

 

That was Dusty, still on her horse. Sandy was right behind her on hers. She had returned for Buttercup and was leading her by the reins. Both cousins were staring at the scene; the big man with the metal collar and the topless girl leaning over him.

 

I sat up, keeping a hand on the man's shoulder to keep him down. "This jerk shot me."

 

Dusty was shocked. She leaped off her horse and came to me. "Are you hurt?"

 

Sandy remained mounted, smiling.

 

"I'm fine." I stood up, pulling the man up by his shoulder.

 

"Who is this guy?" Dusty said, turning to look at my prisoner.

 

"I think he was looking for his friend," I said, turning the man around to face Dusty.

 

He spat out the slightly chewed shotgun shell, but didn't say anything.

 

"Do we take this one home with us, too?" asked Sandy, still sitting on her horse.

 

Dusty looked up. "I'd guess we'd better."

 

"How?" I asked. "We don't have a spare horse."

 

Dusty looked over my prisoner from head to foot again. "He's got feet, doesn't he?" She then turned to me. "Or, since you caught him, he can ride with you."

 

The day hadn't turned me into a good enough horsewoman to share my mount with a passenger. I was about to protest when Dusty dug a walkie-talkie from her saddlebag.

 

"I told you we have backup," she said with a grin, before extending the antenna and thumbing the unit on, telling whomever was on the other end what had happened and where we were.

 

"They're on the way," she said, lowering the radio and collapsing the antenna.

 

I was half expecting to see the cavalry come riding in, bugles blaring. Or at least Hoss and Little Joe.

 

What actually happened wasn't nearly so dramatic, of course. Instead of trumpeting bugles or thundering hooves, I heard the engines well before a Jeep came roaring up the road, followed by a pickup truck. The Jeep held two men, as did the truck. Both passengers were armed, and I was pretty sure that the drivers also had weapons in easy reach.

 

Sandy remained on her horse and held the others as the vehicles pulled up to us and halted. Dusty turned our prisoner over to the men, who tied him up and tossed him into the back of the pickup. One man climbed in with him and the others got back into the vehicles. The entire operation had taken less than two minutes.

 

Then it was our turn to mount up and return to the ranch. The ride without further incident, all three of us wondering about our latest prisoner. This made two days in a row that we'd caught one of Spenser's men snooping around on our territory.

 

Dusty fairly leaped off her horse once we reached the stables. Sandy was only slightly slower, gathering up her cousin's horse's reins before taking Buttercup's as well. A wordless glance passed between the cousins, then Dusty trotted off toward the main house.

 

"C'mon, Jessie," Sandy said. "Buttercup carried you, now you've got to put her away." She handed me Buttercup's reins and started to lead her horse and Dusty's to the stables.

 

I had no choice but to follow, though I was sure that Buttercup was perfectly capable of following the other two horses on her own as she had been doing all day.

 

Putting the horses away was a little more complicated a process than simply parking a car in the garage, shutting off the engine, and closing the door. I really didn't know what I was doing, but with Sandy's directions I managed to get the stuff off the horses and put away.

 

Of course, there was more to it than that. We had to brush them down, cleaning off their sweat. I followed Sandy's lead, though I probably gave Buttercup a slightly more vigorous currying than she was accustomed to. She didn't seem to mind, though. Neither did I; Buttercup had been a good mount.

 

Sandy did both her horse and her cousin's. "She make you do hers as well because she's nine days older?" I asked.

 

"Nah," she answered with a grin. "We usually do our own. Out here, we have to take care of our horses. When we can't, we take turns. It just happened to be mine. Next time, she'll do both."

 

And then, of course, after we had the horses cleaned up, we had to clean up something else after them. I would have suspected Dusty of assigning me to the task out of spite, except for Sandy's attitude. For her, it was just a part of taking care of the horses. No more out of ordinary than putting gas in a car, or something like that. And it wasn't that odious a task, once I turned off my nostrils and quit thinking about what I was doing.

 

Finally, we had to make sure that they had enough food and water. It was amazing to think about how much stuff had to go in at one end just so it could get mixed up and come out the other end. On the other hand, I decided that it might be better not to think about it.

 

"Hey! Wanna see the puppies?"

 

It took me a moment to figure out the change of subject. Puppies? What puppies? Oh yeah, Goldie and Rusty's new puppies. Who can resist puppies? "Sure," I answered.

 

"Come on, then." She led the way.

 

I could hear them before we went through the doorway. And I could smell them, as well.

 

"They look just like their parents, don't they?"

 

The puppies really were adorable. There were four of them, their eyes barely open as they crawled around and atop each other as they sought out the best positions for their mother's nipples. I wanted to touch them, stroke their soft coats, but when I reached out to try to pet one Goldie growled at me and bared her teeth.

 

I immediately snatched my hand back. I'd faced gangs of armed men, even gone up against an experimental particle beam weapon. But not even a superior girl was going to get between this mother and her babies.

 

Rusty came and slobbered over my hand instead. "A lot of help you are," I told him, snatching my hand back and wiping it on his back as he twisted his head around.

 

"Rusty thinks he should be getting all the extra attention," Sandy said, laughing and reaching over to scratch him behind the ears.

 

"What'd you expect?" Dusty said. I'd been so engrossed in the puppies that I hadn't heard her join us. "He's the father."

 

Right on cue, Rusty went over to Dusty for more attention.

 

"I figured I'd find the two of you here," she told us, giving the daddy dog a quick pat on the head and then squatting down to join us in admiring the little puppies.

 

It was quick job of admiring, though, Dusty making no move to actually touch the puppies. "C'mon, I want to catch the interrogation," she said, straightening back up, reminding us that we had another prisoner.

 

"How is he?" Sandy asked.

 

"They were just making him uncomfortable when I left to come get you."

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